Great River


That night the captain and the friar took the prisoner to the fields near the pueblo and interrogated him. Bigotes denied everything all over again. They concluded that he was lying. Alvarado knew what was commonly done in cases of that sort. He ordered some of the army’s dogs turned loose upon Bigotes. But even though bitten on an arm and both legs, the prisoner refused to confirm the Turk’s story. Later, the lacerated Bigotes, with Isopete and the Turk, were delivered in shackles to Cardenas for safekeeping. Cacique, the fourth prisoner, an old man, though not chained was also retained in custody. The news of their treatment filtered through the pueblo settlements, behind whose impassive walls it made bitterness among the river people.

But now for the moment the General had more immediate problems to solve. The garrison was growing, and in less than three weeks his main force would arrive. Most of them were used to warmer southern climates. Already some of the Mexican Indians and Negroes with the army had died of the freezing weather. It was a sharp December in the river valley. He would need additional clothing for his troops. The Indian people seemed to have ample supplies of cloth of their own manufacture—cotton, and yucca fibre in which strips of rabbit fur were twisted. A requisition would have to be levied.

The General sent for an Indian who was called Juan Alemán, after a man in Mexico of the same name whom he resembled. Juan was a chief of Moho, a pueblo fifteen miles up the river. He had shown himself to be friendly. The General now asked him to collect from all twelve towns of Tiguex a requisition of three hundred articles of clothing or cloth with which to dress the soldiers.

Juan Alemán replied that he was unable to speak for more than one pueblo, as each was independently governed and would have to be approached separately.

With this, the General designated officers to visit the pueblos one by one and collect the levy. The order was promptly carried out. Some of the Spaniards did their duty considerately, others roughly. But in all cases the Indians had no chance to prepare for the demand, and time and again submitted by taking the clothes off their backs to hand to the soldiers, some of whom while foraging also took the opportunity to come away with corn, turkeys and other edibles. The river people lived from season to season, for the most part. Privation for them must follow the stern removal of their modest possessions, even though, in obedience to the strict command of the Viceroy, nothing was taken from the native people without reimbursement. But beads and little bells would not keep the people of Tiguex warm as winter fell, or feed their mouths as their harvest, gleaned with dances of thanksgiving, was so fast depleted by the strangers in their midst.

Thought moved behind the earthen brows within the earthen walls.

The soldiers were but men like others, as the playful wrestling had shown on those autumn evenings in the Spanish camp. Any man could die like another; but not so readily if he rode a huge beast that could trample over obstacles and people with furious power, and bear away its rider to safety faster than a man could run.

One day there came running from the Spanish pastures near Alcanfor a Mexican Indian wounded and bleeding who was one of the guards with the garrison’s herd of horses. He cried that another guard had been killed by arrows, and that the horses were being driven across the river and north toward the pueblo of Arenal by men of Tiguex.

In a very real sense the horses could mean life itself to the Spanish. Cardenas taking some men with him galloped out in pursuit. Footprints led him across the river and as he went he came upon many horses already killed with arrows. Others were alive and scattering in the river groves. He rounded up all he could and started back to the corrals, passing the pueblo of Arenal, which was barricaded behind new palisades. Within, there was a wild concert of yells, exhortations, sportive chorus. He heard captured horses braying and dashing wildly about. The Indians were driving them as in a bull ring, and shooting arrows at them. He made a demonstration outside the palisades, and got their attention. He offered them forgiveness and peace. They reviled him and mocked him with obscene motions. He returned to his own pueblo with the rescued portion of the herd and reported to the General.

Vásquez de Coronado called his staff together for a council of war. His captains and his two Franciscan chaplains sat with him. All factors were weighed. The main army was not yet at the river, though surely it must by then be on the march. With the river towns in revolt, it would be impossible to conduct any explorations of the cattle plains and beyond, where the real objective of the whole expedition seemed now to lie. The uprising must be put down or between the prizes of Quivira and the long road home to Mexico there would be unpredictable dangers. The advance garrison was not large; there was risk in giving battle at this point; yet there seemed greater risk in not doing so. The General asked for votes. Each captain in turn, and the friars, voted to make one. more offer of peace and, if it were rejected, to fight.

Captains Diego López and Maldonado were ordered to go respectively to the pueblos of Arenal and Moho. There they made announcements in official style offering peace and asking for specific complaints as to any individual misbehavior on the part of the army. If evidence supported charges, the guilty soldiery would be punished in the presence of the Indians.